In Part 1 of the series, A Holistic Approach to Fibromyalgia, I shared my journey from conventional medicine to arriving at a diagnosis of joint hypermobility and fibromyalgia. In Part 2 I talked about my ventures into researching natural therapies and holistic solutions to my symptoms. In this article I will get specific about the practices that I have found helpful in alleviating pain and fatigue. First, I want to examine a facet of this story that no doctor has ever mentioned to me.
Post traumatic stress– A negative synergy
I lived with mysterious debilitating symptoms for 6 years until I realized that I had this condition. Like many people, I thought it was a condition reserved for war survivors. However, I have a history of abuse from about 10-20 years back, which set up my biology to react a certain way to stressors. When my fight-or-flight response triggers cortisol to flood my body, it results in tension and pain I have difficulty defusing. Particularly, a volatile situation, or even a somewhat benign situation that reminds me of abusive times may cause an exaggerated emotional response which will tax every part of my biology and leave me distraught and feeling ill for days.
It has taken a really long time to begin to understand the mechanisms of how my emotions affect my health. I am not sure if I will ever truly be 100% healed, but learning how to use tools to calm myself and think rationally when in the midst of a hormonal stress flood has helped immensely.
Exertion– another piece of the puzzle
Coming so far from laying in bed for days at a time 10 years ago, I believed my days of stress, pain and exhaustion were behind me, and everything was going along pretty smoothly with my healthy diet and supplement protocol until a culmination of stress and exertion resulted in a mojo-destroying avalanche that came crashing down on me.
Without a lot of warning, I was needed to help pack up a storage unit a few hundred miles away and haul a trailer through the mountains. The items ended up in my garage, which required a re-organization of my garage contents to decide what to keep, sell, donate or trash. I can be overconfident, and I overexerted myself.
Concurrent with this scenario were a couple of other fluke situations of family and social stress which triggered my anxiety response. A week and a half of exertion and utter lack of sleep provided the breeding ground for stress hormones to attack my body and mind. It was too late when I figured out what was going on, and I crashed physically mentally and emotionally. I was sick with stress. My work life and home life suffered in a big way as a result.
A wake-up call
It was a warning and I began to ask myself some questions– how can I minimize the effect of stress on my body? How can I stop getting sick with stress? Specifically, what holistic nutritional, supplementary and lifestyle protocols will keep my down-days to a minimum and give me the steady verve that I need?
What about the diet?
I had followed a clean-eating, whole foods diet for awhile, and began to learn about juicing and superfoods. Kale, hemp hearts and quinoa were finding their way to my plate. Green smoothies and fresh veggie juices were an exciting experiment. I learned about ‘healthy fats’, DHA and MCT’s.
My research unveiled interesting findings on the consumption of meat, particularly its effect on stress hormones. People choose to abstain from meat for a myriad of reasons, but one thing that struck a chord with me, was the fact that meat from factory farms is produced by a process that floods the animal with cortisol and other stress hormones, as an animal going to slaughter in this environment is very traumatized— pumping out stress hormones at the moment it is killed— and by eating meat I was ingesting these excess stress-inducing chemicals. I now abstain from meat primarily for this reason, but other factors such as the high levels of pesticides found in meat are also compelling reasons fo me to limit intake.
In my quest to optimize my biological responses and enhance vitality, longevity and stress response, I have elected to take a vegan whole-foods multivitamin and daily flax oil capsules. I found a vegan DHA supplement derived from algae to counter inflammation and improve circulation.
I take melatonin for sleep— but this is a very personal decision as not everyone responds. Other supplements I sometimes use for anxiety and sleeplessness are kava kava extract, lavender oil capsules, and valerian extract. I have had great luck with lavender capsules— and in fact, there are studies that show its efficacy to be more effective than Lorazepam. As with any supplement or holistic regimen, check with your doctor and also ensure the quality and safety of your herbs and oils before using internally or externally.
Does meditation have a measurable effect?
Mindfulness meditation can put the mind at ease and give us an avenue to redirect the pent-up pain and fear from a traumatic past that drives our stress responses. Aromatherapy and meditation have been shown to promote a favorable stress response in the body.
In a nutshell
Stress wreaks havoc on our health in measurable ways. Past experiences with trauma, as well as physical exertion, can exacerbate this tendency, and exaggerate health problems and chronic conditions. In order to counter this cycle, adopt healthy lifestyle habits and stress management techniques. Additionally, educate yourself about natural healing protocols that may be of benefit to you.
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Do you have an experience with pain and fatigue? What helped you? Have you used essential oils, nutrition, or herbs to your benefit? Leave a comment below!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I am the Art Director of the American College of Healthcare Sciences, the Institution that publishes this blog. However, all opinions are my own. This blog may contain affiliate links. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
About American College of Healthcare Sciences
Founded in 1978, ACHS.edu is a Portland, Ore.-based, accredited college offering online, on-campus, and study abroad integrative health education. With undergraduate and graduate degrees, diplomas, certificates, and continuing education units in integrative health, ACHS makes holistic health and wellness education accessible to a diverse community, including healthcare professionals, military students, stay-at-home parents, and lifelong learners. Specializations include aromatherapy, herbal medicine, holistic nutrition, and integrative health. ACHS is a Certified B Corporation® and was named two of 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon 2017 by Oregon Business magazine. ACHS is also accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). In response to our commitment to service members, veterans and military spouses, ACHS has been designated as one of the top 16% of military-friendly institutions in the U.S. for nine years in a row. For more information visit achs.edu.